Updated: Mar 5, 2020
On a chilly Wednesday evening, typical of the Ottawa winter, I went to interview the owner of a beautiful cafe called “The Thirsty Maiden” located near Bridlewood community in Kanata South.
The owner, who goes by the nickname Chi, greeted me warmly, and I was immediately
impressed with how well the interior was decorated, lush with greenery and highlights of vibrant yet chic colors. I found myself at home almost instantly and was excited to hear more about the story of this sleek and inviting cafe. We talked about how her former experiences in the industry helped her succeed in running her own business, how the different social media platforms have helped grow her business and which of her offerings her customers seem to enjoy the most.
Tell me a little bit about yourself Chi!
I was born in Nigeria and moved to Canada about 25 years ago at a young age, and resided in Mississauga until my post-secondary years. I moved up North to Sudbury Ontario for 4 years where I attended University. The pace of life in Northern Ontario proved to be very different than that of the fast paced city I had become accustomed to. The move proved to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me. This move became the pivotal moment in my journey where I got to experience being independent and would come into my own. Being a young woman of color in a predominantly different demographic was an interesting experience to say the least. I was forced to rely on my wits and hardworking nature to garner respect from my peers and a community not accustomed to an individual such as myself. In the end, Sudbury would feel more like home than anywhere else in the world.
So how did you come up with the idea of The Thirsty Maiden?
The Thirsty Maiden is a concept for a Cafe and Dessert spot that I’ve had in my head for years. I’ve gained experience working everywhere from chain restaurants like The Keg, Montana’s, Heart & Crown, Lonestar, Milestones, fine dining establishments, etc. The one experience that really solidified my confidence was my time spent at Brookstreet Hotel. I spent some time as a Food & Beverage Manager growing revenue for their food and beverage outlets, then moved into sales. My role there involved selling Conferences to the High-Tech Industry in Kanata North.
I knew going into business for myself was always going to be my lot in life. My innovative mind and willingness to succeed would drive me to create what is now The Thirsty Maiden. The goal here was to elevate the customer experience. Like many entrepreneurs, I had no idea how to begin this journey - whether it was financing, creating a business plan, taking everything in my head and putting it down on paper.
And when was the Thirsty Maiden founded?
The Thirsty Maiden opened its doors to the public in April 2019. It’s difficult to believe we’ve already been in business for 10 months. Time flies when you’re doing what you love!
When you were first starting out, what were some of the main challenges you had to overcome?
I was initially turned down by two big banks, which I learned don’t enjoy getting involved with anyone trying to open up a restaurant due to high turnover rates. I needed to illustrate to any potential investor that beyond my business model, the real investment here was the one they were making in me. My vision and my experience.
For young entrepreneurs just starting out that may also struggle a bit to secure funding, what are some pieces of advice you would give them?
Go out there and look for resources. There are people and programs out there that are designed to help young entrepreneurs. Futurepreneur was one of the outlets that helped me get started. They specifically fund young entrepreneurs within a certain age group and they partner with BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada). I received funding from both of those avenues, amongst other sources. What’s great is there are structures in place to help a young business grow and thrive and not be too pressured financially to start out.
You also have to be prepared to invest in yourself, which is something I also had to do.
Did you have any particular mentors, books, or anything that helped you out?
*Laughs* No! I knew my first step was getting a business plan done, but other than that, I stumbled into everything else and made plenty of missteps along the way.
How about marketing? Do you have help?
I started off doing my own marketing and I still do. A big lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t have to do everything. In order to grow my business I need to invest my own time and running my own marketing can feel like a full time job sometimes. I’m learning to outsource in order to grow my business.
I saw your Google Maps property page, you have lots of great pictures and it looks super professional. Do you think a lot of revenue comes from the online marketing stream?
Social media has been a huge part of my success. Many small businesses like me are fortunate to be able to use these platforms instead of spending thousands of dollars on expensive newspaper or radio ads or delivering flyers door to door. Social media and word of mouth have been pivotal in drawing in customers that may otherwise have not known about the Cafe. Being a consumer, I understand what I want when I go somewhere to spend my money. I knew I had to create a ‘beautiful’ space that would appeal to different demographics on social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook.
Your place definitely feels very Instagram-able.
I appreciate that, and it’s interesting because my Instagram and Facebook demographics are completely different. This is something I didn’t understand when started out. I am also conscious about following trends and paying attention to the analytics. It’s about knowing when to post, how often to post, what to post to engage your customers, etc.
The Thirsty Maiden hosts monthly networking meetings for young entrepreneurs called the Rising Tide Society. Here’s always a different subject matter to discuss (time management, marketing, social media).
Where did the name The Thirsty Maiden come from?
I wanted a name that embodied everything I am. `Thirsty` reflects the idea of never staying complacent. I’ve never been that way in my life, and I never want to stay stagnant in life whether it’s in relationships with people, my partner, my business; I always want to keep moving forward.
The ‘Maiden’ in the name is where my nerdy side comes in. I’m obsessed with Norse & Viking Mythology. When people hear ‘Maiden’, many people think of the archaic term of a chaste, 19th century style young woman. But a maiden (a shieldmaiden) in Norse Mythology is a woman who’s a fierce warrior. That’s always how I’ve seen myself. So not only does the name reflect my values and who I am, it’s also provocative - It stays on people’s minds.
What are the most enjoyable parts of running your business?
On a normal day, on my counter top, I have up to twenty different items such as cakes, tarts, cookies, scones, sandwiches, etc - which alternate daily. I enjoy Wow-ing people not only with the decor of the place, but I want them to walk up to the counter and be taken aback.
One of my favorite things to do is interacting with customers. The Thirsty Maiden has a very loyal customer base and I enjoyed befriending some along the way.
So finally, what are your three favorite menu items that the Thirsty Maiden has to offer?
I get excited when people try our Cinnamon Coconut Latte. I am a fan of anything coconut. I want my customers to experience something they can’t have anywhere else.
Food wise, we have a rotating menu but the Mac n Cheese Wrap leaves customers wanting more. It’s stuffed with the cheesiest macaroni along with bacon and brie - it’s literally a heart attack.
Finally, our locally sourced scones fly off the shelves. We use mini versions of them for events topped with either Boursin cheese, smoked salmon and dill or stuffed with lemon curd and finished with fresh fruit.
Sounds delicious. Thank you for your time!
So there you have it. Chi is a strong, spirited business owner with a great passion for guest satisfaction and making real connections. Thank you for sharing the experience of your journey in opening your first cafe and for your insights on social media marketing. I’ll surely be visiting again soon to try her mac & cheese bacon wrap!
This interview has been edited for clarity.